RSF calls for independent UN probe into Pakistani journalist’s murder in Kenya

Two weeks after well-known Pakistani TV news anchor Arshad Sharif was shot dead in a car near Nairobi – two wasted weeks marked by contradictory Kenyan police statements and doubts about the impartiality of the Pakistani investigators – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for a UN investigation into Sharif’s brutal murder.

“The information currently emerging from the Kenyan wing of the investigation is contradictory, and all independent attempts to get information are met with a wall of silence,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau. “If the Kenyan authorities want to shed light on this murder, they must ensure that the investigation is not cloaked in imprecision, and that it is independent and impartial.”

 

“Why was Arshad Sharif in Kenya and, above all, why did he have to flee his country – these are the questions behind his murder,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“The potential conflicts of interest are such on both the Kenyan and Pakistani sides that we are calling on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Morris Tidball-Binz, to launch an investigation with an independent international team to shed all possible light on this shocking case.”

 

Sharif was killed by two shots fired at close range. This is one of the few hard facts to have emerged in the two weeks since his murder in a Nairobi suburb on the night of 23 October. The information comes from a Kenyan autopsy report published on 4 November. It says that one of the bullets entered his back and exited via his chest and that the other bullet lodged in his head.

Repeated Kenyan inconsistencies

These details have increased the scepticism about the information so far provided by the Kenyan police about the circumstances of the murder. An initial report seen by RSF said police fired on the car in which Sharif was travelling because they mistook it for a stolen car and because it did not stop at a checkpoint. But the car in which Sharif was travelling bore no similarity to the stolen car, so it is highly unlikely that the police could have confused them.

A subsequent account provided by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) – which is supposed to police the Kenyan police – claimed that police officers returned fire in response to shots fired by a person inside the car, and that the shots fired by the police hit Sharif by mistake. But this version is belied by the autopsy report, which shows that Sharif was clearly targeted.

In response to these repeated inconsistences, several Kenyan organisations have issued a joint call for “a rapid and comprehensive investigation (...) so that the public knows what really happened.”

Discredited promise

Kenya Union of Journalists president Eric Oduor told RSF that a transparent investigation was something that journalists throughout the world required. “But the government has not reported any progress in the investigations into the killing of Arshad Sharif.  And we keep on demanding that the investigations are fast-tracked to bring the killers to book.”

Speaking on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (2 November), Kenya Editors Guild president Churchill Otieno said: “If we cannot keep a journalist as prominent as Arshad safe [in our country], it will be difficult to keep ourselves safe.”

All this criticism has cast doubt on the credibility of the promise of “all-out help” that Kenyan President William Ruto gave when Pakistan’s prime minister requested a “fair and transparent” investigation the day after the murder.

Questions about Pakistani investigation

Many questions have meanwhile been raised about Pakistan’s handling of the case, starting with the composition of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that the government appointed on 25 October to investigate the murder. One of the officials in charge of the investigation was initially supposed to be a representative of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the feared military intelligence agency that is notorious for carrying out extrajudicial operations around the world.

It is the ISI that has repeatedly been blamed for Sharif’s decision to flee the country on 10 August, as RSF reported at the time. An ARY News TV anchor, he fled to avoid probable arrest on various charges include “sedition” and “abetting mutiny” for interviewing an ally of recently ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan who accused the new government of waging a campaign to turn the army against Khan’s party.

The ISI representative was finally withdrawn from the JIT because of the outcry, but the JIT’s composition is still criticised because it is led by representatives of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), both of which are direct government offshoots.

Red lines

RSF has seen a letter that Sharif sent to the head of Pakistan’s supreme court in July reporting that he had received death threats. A fierce critic of the current government and regarded as a supporter of Imran Khan’s party, he had had repeatedly criticised Pakistan’s all-powerful armed forces in recent months. Even more dangerously, he had sided with Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, who was fired as head of the ISI by the general staff at the end of last year and is therefore reviled by the generals currently running the show.

Had Sharif overstepped one of the military’s many “red lines” by exposing the intrigues within the army general staff? The question is being asked with renewed intensity now that the JIT has returned from Kenya and is so far refusing to say anything about its initial findings, including to Sharif’s family.

Criticised judicial commission

A new judicial commission appointed by the prime minister to investigate the murder immediately ran into trouble on 6 November when the retired judge appointed to head it, Abdul Shakoor Paracha, declined to take the job, citing reservations expressed by Sharif’s mother about the commission.

Sharif’s mother criticised the fact that this commission included someone who had already gone to Nairobi in connection with the case, and did not include a journalist. “It is necessary that a representative from the media should be taken into the loop,” Justice Paracha agreed, calling on the supreme court president to intervene.

In a separate development, the Islamabad high court yesterday (7 November) ordered the competent authorities to release the Pakistani post mortem report on Sharif by 15 November in response to a petition by Sharif’s mother.

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